Saulsman: A guide to making decisions as a young adult

College is the time to be an adult without the actual responsibilities of adulthood. Most of us, especially first-year students, still depend on our families for financial support. Because of this, we do not have to participate in the very real, very adult action of paying bills. We frolic along, eating meals at the dining hall or using Mom’s credit card at Panera Bread, not really aware of the financial consequences. What a splendid way to live. I never want to leave college.

On the other hand, however, we are still expected to participate in some adult duties. These duties include making decisions about certain aspects of our lives. We have to decide when to sleep, when to eat, when to exercise, when to write an essay and, perhaps the scariest, when to do our laundry. Some of these seem like trivial decisions that don’t necessarily have a large impact on the viability of our young lives, but some of us were not blessed with parents who let us be independent in high school.

For instance, up until junior year of high school, I had a bedtime. This meant all lights had to be out by at most 11 p.m. Coming to college, understanding when to turn off the lights is a constant struggle. Understanding this example of a small decision to make impacts my ability to make larger decisions when it comes to taking care of myself.

In an effort to help those like me, I propose a solution that has helped me in the past. When needing to make a decision in a short amount of time, you should go with your gut feeling. Humans are cognitive misers, always using mental shortcuts called heuristics in order to make quick judgments about things in particular. These heuristics do not always produce the correct answers, but they do help us to understand what most people would do in the situation and if this is in line with what we feel is right. Going with your gut is useful for decisions that need to be made quickly.

For those decisions requiring longer thought, such as deciding whether or not to switch majors or to live with your best friend, I suggest constructing a pro-con list. These lists can be helpful in determining which variables you consider to be the most important and how your decision will affect these variables. However, should you use this method, be aware of the tendency of humans to place importance on variables that should not necessarily be weighted heavily. For instance, when deciding to switch majors, you should not place heavy importance on the fact that you would not have to walk to the engineering quad anymore.

College is the time to make mistakes. However, it is important to know how to make decisions so that you won’t make mistakes you’ll regret too much. You want to be sure of your decision and to be comfortable with why you made it. Therefore, for those of us who struggle with making decisions regarding anything, you can use the mind’s trick for using heuristics or, for larger decisions, the pro-con list.

Courtney is a first-year student majoring in psychology. And maybe sociology. And maybe cognitive science. One of her talents includes not being able to decide what she wants to do in life.